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Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what his definition is of decent in the context of housing standards. [1128]

Ms Keeble: A decent home must be above the current statutory minimum standard for housing (the fitness standard); be in a reasonable state of repair; have modern facilities and services; and provide a reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

Guidance has been issued providing more detail for social landlords on how the elements of the definition should be interpreted. A copy has been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions if he will list the target outputs for SRB-funded housing units between 1997 and 2001. [1741]

Ms Keeble: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave him on 26 June 2001, Official Report, column 56W.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to encourage housing associations to improve the energy efficiency of their (a) existing properties and (b) new build schemes; what plans he has to support district heating schemes; and what plans he has to encourage housing associations to use solar energy in new build social housing. [1112]

Ms Keeble: My Department, together with the Housing Corporation, is taking a number of measures to improve the energy efficiency of registered social landlords' (RSLs) properties.

For existing properties, the Housing Corporation's Performance Standards require RSLs to assess the energy efficiency of their housing stock and, through planned improvement work, to help local authorities to meet their obligations under the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995.

2 Jul 2001 : Column: 16W

The Housing Corporation is also promoting the adoption of sustainable development action plans in the RSL sector. These will require RSLs to adopt environmental good practice across a range of activities including refurbishment, management and maintenance of their existing stock. An environmental management system specifically designed for RSLs is being developed and will be launched later this year. In addition, the Housing Corporation's Innovation and Good Practice (IGP) programme will continue to fund projects that raise awareness of environmental considerations. A number of good practice guides and tools to help RSLs address energy management for affordable warmth and energy services has already been developed.

For new build schemes and the rehabilitation of existing dwellings, the Housing Corporation's Scheme Development Standards specify a minimum Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) energy rating which must be achieved. In its guidance the Corporation strongly encourages the achievement of SAP ratings above the minimum level.

In addition, from 1 April this year, RSLs have been required to use a recently developed system of Housing Quality Indicators (HQIs) in planning new schemes. HQIs provide a basis for assessing the quality of schemes against 10 key aspects of design, including energy efficiency and sustainability.

The Housing Corporation is investigating the potential for RSLs to use Combined Heat and Power (CHP) schemes as part of its wider promotion of energy efficiency. Most CHP schemes are on a scale which is not generally suitable for RSL properties, but the Corporation is currently participating in an EU-wide project to scope the potential for micro-CHP systems. We will consider the scope for greater use of CHP in relation to RSL properties in the light of the fundings in this report.

The Housing Corporation is actively encouraging RSLs to consider the use of Photovoltaic (PV) roofs and solar water heating. A number of RSLs now use these systems and a network of RSLs with an interest in PV roofs is being established to address areas of concern and to develop good practice guidance on the use of PV roof and solar water heating systems within the sector. However, at present the costs are high with conventional systems.

Housing (Yorkshire)

Mr. Fabian Hamilton: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what further changes he is intending to make to regional planning guidance for Yorkshire and the Humber about the distribution of housebuilding in west Yorkshire. [2073]

Ms Keeble: Over 800 comments have been received in response to the proposed changes to draft Regional Planning Guidance for Yorkshire and the Humber which were published in March 2001. Many of the consultation responses welcome the proposed changes as they improve RPG and provide a clear strategy for sustainable development in the region. An issue has been raised about the distribution of housing in west Yorkshire which we consider needs to be resolved by publishing further changes to RPG for public consultation.

2 Jul 2001 : Column: 17W

The level of housing provision in west Yorkshire published for consultation in March 2001 was 6,175 dwellings per year, some 800 more than originally proposed in the Regional Assembly's draft RPG. However, where these additional 800 houses per year should be located within west Yorkshire was not specified. Instead, it was proposed that it be established in the next review of RPG in a few years' time. The Regional Assembly and the local authorities have not objected to the proposed increase. Environmental groups have objected, while developers have expressed support or argued that provision should be further increased. There were also significant arguments put forward that the distribution of the additional housing within west Yorkshire should be determined now rather than left to the next review of RPG. In the light of all comments received, we are proposing that there should be no further change to the overall amount of housing in west Yorkshire, but that its distribution between local authorities should be set out now. This will provide greater certainty in the planning system, and will assist urban renaissance by helping to reduce the need to travel by providing homes near to jobs. The following annual rates of housebuilding are proposed:


Comments on these revised figures are being invited over a six week period. These will be considered, along with all the representations already received, before RPG is finalised later in the year.

Mobile Phone Masts

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he plans to publish PPG8 on mobile phone masts. [1239]

Ms Keeble: On 16 March 2001, my right hon. Friend the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Construction announced a series of important improvements to the planning arrangements for telecommunications development. We shall introduce the rules and publish the revised Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG8) on Telecommunications Development to implement the changes at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what representations he has received calling for health risks to be considered as part of the planning consideration for mobile phone masts. [1238]

Ms Keeble: The Department has received centrally in the last year 363 letters from Members of Parliament and 541 letters from members of the public and local planning authorities about the amenity or health aspects related to mobile phone masts. These are in addition to responses to last year's consultation exercise seeking views on possible changes to the planning laws relating to telecommunications masts and associated guidance (365 in total).

2 Jul 2001 : Column: 18W

House Sales (Seller's Packs)

Mr. Don Foster: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions what plans he has to introduce legislation requiring persons selling a house to provide a pack of information to prospective purchasers. [1317]

Ms Keeble: We remain committed to seller's packs, as set out in our manifesto. Legislation will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. In the meantime, we are pressing ahead, in consultation with consumer representatives and the professional bodies, with developing the detailed contents of the seller's pack to prepare the ground for a smooth introduction across England and Wales.


Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for how many years the Railway Development Fund will run. [1440]

Mr. Jamieson: The 10-Year Plan for Transport provides for spending on the Rail Modernisation Fund over the years of the plan, that is to 2010–11.

Concessionary Bus Fares

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions when he plans to equalise the age of qualification for the national concessionary bus fares scheme. [1419]

Ms Keeble: We are making good progress with this issue and have already introduced the Travel Concessions (Eligibility) Bill [H.L.] which will equalise at 60 the age at which both men and women become eligible for travel concessions.

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